Teen Entrepreneur's Search Engine Is Built for a Higher Purpose

Mashable

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Name: Benelab

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Big Idea: Benelab, founded by Seattle teenager Jack Kim, is a search engine that donates 100% of revenues to charity.

Why It's Working: By transforming an everyday task -- web search -- into a vehicle for good, Kim and his team of fellow students are proving that Internet technology and a little scrappiness can empower anyone to become an entrepreneur and make a difference.

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During his freshman year at King's High School in Shoreline, Wash., Jack Kim learned how to code HTML and build websites. "I thought that was pretty neat, I decided it'd be cool to try to make something online, so I looked up a bunch of things, like AdSense from Google," Kim says. "I liked making websites and designing."

His first website was an elementary search engine (now defunct) that made Kim $200 to $300 a month from 2,000 monthly visitors. "That’s when I learned that the search engine was the way to go -- you can make a lot of money for such little traffic," he says. From this experience, Kim decided he could use a search engine to generate donations.

He launched Benesearch.com during his freshman year, and the site simply rerouted straight to Google, generating revenue (and therefore donations) on a CPM basis. Then, Kim attended a summer business program at Stanford, where one of his professors taught the basics of entrepreneurship and inspired Kim to have another go. So, he began to revamp Benesearch.

"Benesearch was a good idea -- I really like charity work, and I like giving a present to somebody," he explains.

Kim relaunched the site as Benelab, this time routing through Bing, and sought to make it "a non-profit organization with a startup vibe." The first rule? No adults. Kim recruited classmates to be COO, PR lead, treasurer and CTO, and the Benelab team is comprised of eight King's students. On a teenager's budget, the company had to bootstrap quite a bit -- in fact, the website was mocked up in Microsoft Paint. "It looks pretty crude -- we didn't know Photoshop," says Kim. But being a young and cash-strapped entrepreneur has its advantages, he adds. "You can get a lot more attention for what you’re doing when you’re young," he says. "The reaction is, 'Oh this kid is a 16-year-old CEO with braces.'"

The notion of a charity search engine isn't new -- GoodSearch was launched in 2005 -- but unlike other social-minded search engines, Benelab donates 100% of its revenue from web searches (about 2 cents per query) to charities. The site sees about 1,000 searches per day, adding up to 30,000 searches per month, says Kim.

"Our mission is to make philanthropy easy and more accessible," says Kim. Using a search engine "is something that you always do," so it's an easy way to give back. Benelab has partnered with the high school's student government to raise money for a well in Uganda. And just last month, Benelab wrote a $340 check to World Concern, which supplies hearing aids to kids in the developing world. The charity for the month of May is Ronald McDonald House.

Kim, who just turned 17, is wrapping up the very busy junior year. But he remains ambitious about Benelab's next year. "I don’t know what's going to happen to Benelab after I graduate -- my goal before high school ends is $100,000."


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